This blog may contain comments or opinions that are sensitive and potential “triggers” for some and are MY thoughts and opinions only. Sobriety and recovery are sensitive areas so fair warning is heeded. THIS IS A LONGER BLOG FOR A REASON. Some of you may be angry, even offended yet I am confident many will be inspired. The choice is always yours.
If there is one question I run into that provokes more passionate opinions it’s “Is addiction a disease (curse) or a choice?” The fact that I don’t have a clear answer doesn’t mean I can’t learn more on this topic and eventually form a better understanding. In my new book, “This One’s For You-An Inspirational Journey Through Addiction, Death and Meaning” I peeled back a few layers of this issue and began to dive into this headfirst. Before any intelligent conversation can be had on this divided topic it’s imperative to try to set aside preconceived beliefs and biases and ultimately try to look at the facts we can see and the data we can’t so readily understand. I am no doctor of any capacity so my comments are just that, comments. Getting upset and defensive will do little to actually help any of us to develop positive emotions to combat negative habits. After all, It isn’t about being right it’s about doing whatever it takes for you to stop drinking, taking drugs, or falling to the trappings of an abusive relationship.
I think one issue is how the question is often framed. Disease OR choice should be stated as disease AND choice. It’s similar to nature vs nurture which should be reframed as nature AND nurture. Environment clearly has a lot to do with your chances of inflaming addiction issues and in the abuse of those addictions. In my own personal case (which clearly isn’t evidence by any means) I was an alcoholic for many years ( spent a night in jail for a DWI) as well as being a compulsive gambler, all of which is covered in more detail in my book.
I have ADD and have found ways to cope without medication my whole life. Unfortunately our oldest son, Seth, became addicted to adderall at 15 years old and didn’t view his ADHD as anything other than a burden, a disease (curse) he had no control over. Adderral became the beginning of the end for Seth and was clearly where his early addictions were given life. Unfortunately in our society diagnosis becomes a prophecy and pills become solutions.
On Dec 24th, 2017 at the age of 51, I made a choice to stop drinking alcohol. I literally woke up, hungover and said today is the day. I haven’t had a drink since. Not one drop, not even a whiff of alcohol. I had been drinking since my high school days and enough was enough. I don’t go to meetings and I haven't been tempted to start again. I have developed unique and personal ways to disallow alcohol back into my life. I didn't look at this as “giving up alcohol” as that would give the impression I am making a sacrifice, it’s no sacrifice, it’s a gift, a damn good one I may add!
Before you get upset or judgemental with what I am about to say, do yourself a favor and really listen and comprehend what I am trying to articulate. The voice in MY head was never comfortable with the word, “sober.” It’s just another label to me. I do not like that word nor do I use it in my personal conversations. I am not sure I can articulate why or even a reason why I feel I must? A simple way for me to look at this is to say to myself , “I just didn’t drink alcohol today.” I have found by minimizing the focus on today, right now, I don’t torment myself worrying about tomorrow or getting overconfident about a “streak” I may break if I drink. I am not overthinking this any more than I have too. I am not that smart! I have convinced my brain, tricked it in a sense that I may have a disease but I always have a choice. Instead of succumbing to mind altering chemicals or drugs why not find ways to just alter your mind? Occam's razor at work here.
I don’t smoke but if I had for a long time and stopped I certainly wouldn’t introduce myself at a meeting and proclaim,``Hi, I’m Jeff, I am a smoker.” If I was an overeater and was fat and lost a ton of weight and kept it off, I wouldn’t introduce myself at a meeting as “Hi, I am Jeff, I am overweight.” I will not acknowledge I am still something when clearly I know, in my heart and my head, I am not NOW. Yes, today I have WON and alcohol has lost its grip on me. It has died a slow, lonely death and I couldn’t be happier that it’s dead to me. Why would I tell myself anything less?
I refuse to accept someone telling me, “once an alcoholic always an alcoholic.” HOW THE HELL do they know anything about me? I understand conceptually what they are saying however that phrase seems pretty generic to me and I simply don’t buy it, nor am I required to. Find what works for you and stick to it. It simply does not matter what others think or whom you may offend if this thought process works for you! Am I in denial, an anomaly or am I just naive? Well, I don’t drink now and I don’t have any desire so why don’t you tell me? I can’t be the only one to think this way and I truly believe many others can get themselves to begin thinking this way. Perhaps, by keeping an open mind and continuing to learn we can benefit by examining non traditional approaches to addiction and ultimately recovery.
I made a commitment on 12/24/17, a concious choice that I was not going to punish myself with needless personal assertions, personalized guilt or to vindicate myself among my peers. I feel there could be potential harm if you set yourself up as infallible (always telling everyone you’re sober) then when you make a purely human error in judgment (have a drink let’s say) the punishment is so severe emotionally, so counterproductive and so self-loathing. Perhaps that’s the point? Shame yourself to quit. Whatever it takes, right? Maybe it doesn’t need to be this way anymore.
There is a reason my non-profit is called The Choices Network, Ltd and not The Sober People Group or Don’t Drink Alcohol, Inc. I wanted this to be an emphasis clearly on choices and the consequences that follow yet also it was important not to narrow the focus just on alcohol either. To tell adolescents not to drink, vape or smoke pot won’t work for many and may, worse yet, peak their interests. Maybe we should refrain from instructing our children on what not to do or what to think, instead, let's teach them how to think and why.
An effective method that works for me is I only focus on today. I don’t “keep score” other than I know the day I quit and I certainly won’t worry about tomorrow, I just want to get there first. I may drink tomorrow or I may not. If I do drink tomorrow I won’t tell myself that I have lost to my inner demons or that I have let my alcoholism win. No, it simply means I had a drink on that particular day. I am not putting that pressure or guilt on me. I will make that decision when I get there. For this moment, which is truly all I really have, I choose not to drink. This mindset works for me and may not be the strategy best suited for you.
I have a few “alcoholic friends” that can’t find the motivation or a way to remain abstinent. They go to meetings and seem to be preoccupied daily with thinking and talking about alcohol, telling everyone how long it’s been since their last drink. All with great intentions I may add. It seems plausible to me the more they talk about alcohol the more they are unknowingly feeding the beast. They wake up each day terrified that this is the day that they fall “off the wagon” and punish themselves with guilt, fear, and worry or they are consumed by overconfidence and a need to publicly affirm. Isn’t this simply a battle between you and the seduction of the addictions that call to you? Perhaps you are not as powerless as you believe to be?
I came to the conclusion I was no longer giving alcohol the respect or dignity it believed it deserved from me by feeding it anymore. Not the consumption of it but by the psychological devotion I was giving it by talking and thinking about it everyday. It’s dead to me and will not steal any more time or brain cells from the little I have left of both. I don’t fear alcohol, heck I have a cat named Opus and a dog named Caymus, two of my favorite cabernets! I am not keeping score anymore. I have too much life to live! I am not an alcoholic nor am I sober. I just prefer not to drink alcohol, today. A play on words, sure. Do I care? No. Was I an alcoholic, sure. Am I today? No.
Could it be, many who struggle sincerely believe they are held captive by a genetic theif drowning them with an intoxicating poison flowing through their veins? They are simply a prisoner, unable to stop drinking, at the mercy of this sinister beast? How awful, depressing and difficult winning this fight must be if that is what you truly believe, true or not. Let's try to change the narrative together. LET'S DROWN THE BEAST ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!
I have little doubt that addiction itself has genetic and inheritable traits. I am sure it does and I will give that position it’s merit. You can tell yourself anything you want. Addiction may have a disease genesis but certainly doesn’t mean it has to be abused. Having a predisposition to a particular addiction isn’t the same as being predetermined to abuse, or so it would seem.
“Causes become problems when they are abused”
-Roman Johnston age 17
Last time I posted this idea publicly the number of angry people or those who claimed ignorance on my part were many. Could it be that the stigma with the disease model is softened and it’s easier to claim you have little control over your addictions when you are at the mercy of some invisible force? Here is my key point;
The fact that this may be true or not may not be as important as whether you BELIEVE it’s true or not. Beliefs are often held to “higher regard” than facts.
If you are 100% convinced your addiction is a disease and you are struggling to deal with the pull and allure this affliction demands on you then it may be time to add another arrow to your quiver. Seriously, what do you really have to lose?
The real objective of all this is to get you to conquer the ABUSE of whatever addiction you have in any way that you can. If you can convince yourself on why you drink (it's a disease let's say) then you may be able to convince yourself how to stop? You can always tell yourself a new story about your past! If your past is full of alleged genetic probabilities, poor choices, bad influences, lack of healthy commitments and the inability to get your life back, so be it. You may not be able to just delete the past, yet you are also under no obligation to continue living in it. Rewrite a new story starting today. The potential is within you, the opportunities are in front of you and the attitude you embrace, in my opinion, is always a choice.